The influence of sociality on the conservation biology of social insects


  • Editor, L. Keller

Andrew F. G. Bourke E-mail:


Social insects (ants, bees, wasps and termites) as a group are species rich and ecologically dominant. Many are outstanding “ecological engineers”, or providers of “ecosystem services”, or potential bioindicator species. Few social insects are currently formally classified as Threatened, but this is almost certainly due to a lack of information on population sizes and trends in scarce species. The main influence that sociality has on threats faced by social insects is in reducing effective population sizes, increasing population genetic subdivision and possibly reducing levels of genetic variation relative to solitary species. The main influence that sociality has on threats from social insects is via its role in the ecological success of invasive species, which frequently pose a major hazard to native biotas. In some cases, social features underpinning ecological success in the original range almost certainly contribute to the success of invasive social insects. However, recent studies show or strongly suggest that, in some of the most notoriously invasive populations of ants, bees and wasps, novel social traits have arisen that greatly enhance the rate of spread and ecological competitiveness of these populations. Sociality can therefore represent either a liability or an asset in its contribution to the persistence of social insect populations.